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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/22/2007 Archived Entry: "Movie review: Densha Otoko (Train Man)"

Densha Otoko (Train Man)
Distributed by VIZ Pictures

Review by Ginger Mayerson

I've no idea why this didn't have a wider theatrical release. It is the perfect geek-date movie. Well, maybe that's why; not many geeks date, even though they should. It's only on DVD, so, fanboys, IF you can do dinner-and-a-movie at your or her (or his) place without getting your face slapped, THIS could be the movie for you. Provided your date can read subtitles without moving her (or his) lips. Or maybe you like that; I'm sure I wouldn't know. Or if you're already in a relationship and you want to show the woman (or man) who loves you very much how very bad it could have been and how very good it really is with you, then THIS is the movie for you.

But... as I was watching it for the nth time, I began to wonder something dangerous: why is this beautiful, refined, woman being such a saint for this nerdboy? Why? Why is she such a saint, such an angel, and WHY is she even with him? Talk about a male fantasy. Eeeek.

So what is the attraction for this goddess? The fabulous Eugene Woodbury speculates that she just might be bored with the men she usually meets. I'll be mushier: I think she just sees a nice guy under all that geekiness. I have heard this happens from time to time. She actually must be some kind of saint to stick with him during some of his more embarrassing geek goofy moments, but love, they tell me, is like that. She does finally get a little annoyed when he leaves her standing in the street so he can work something out on the internet, but that was as much temper as she ever shows. Lucky him.

Here's the plot: Densha Otoko (DO) is "living" all curled up inside his protective geek shell. One night on the train home, he is very brave and rescues a pretty young woman from a drunken salaryman. To thank him, she sends him a set of Hermes cups, and is ever after referred to as Hermes in the film. Encouraged by his internet bulletin board buddies, DO asks Hermes out to dinner and is transformed into a cooler, cuter guy with the help of his internet friends and his credit card, but still has a long way to go on the personality.

There are many things to like in this film. You get to see something of Tokyo and its geek culture[1]. There's some clever visual/graphic design to convey internet interaction that seldom gets self-consciously clever. The internet conversations are presented well and are easy to follow because the characters establish themselves quickly and clearly. DO has a couple of highly amusing fantasies and turns out to be a pretty cute guy once he gets a haircut. Really, fanboys, all that might be standing between you and an epic romance is a haircut. Think about it. According to IMDB, this is a true story of a young man (Train Man) who meets a woman and then posts questions on how to proceed on an internet bulletin board. I miss internet bulletin boards; blogs and LiveJournal-like sites just aren't the same. I was very impressed with the way the director or whoever orchestrated the primary responders and gradually brought their stories into the main story. I have to say for strangers they gave DO pretty good advice and came to care what happened to him. This happens on the internet, or it used to happen. My favorite bulletin board denizen is a repressed hoodie-wearing young man who never leaves his room, yells at his mother when she tries to give him food, but is nice to his pet rabbit. There is a sweet, but heartbroken night nurse who watches the board on her shift. There is a young married lady who reads and posts from her kitchen. There is the salaryman who posts from his bedroom and smokes too much. And then there are three uber-geeks who post and read from a manga café[2]. I love those guys, but the geek warfare gag got old pretty fast.

The denizens of the bulletin board's participation in DO's story changes their lives, brings them out of themselves and even improves the social skills of that bunny-cuddling teenage recluse I like so much. I suppose it was seeing how brave DO was in breaking out of the confines of his own repressed life and taking the risk of asking Hermes out that inspired them to spread their own wings a little. I mean, asking Hermes out was more scary for him than rescuing her from the drunk, which I think was mostly reflex (and clumsy and embarrassing, too), but effective.

"Densha Otoko" has a very sweet musical score that's nice to listen to even when not watching the film. The ending goes on for a long time, but it never gets tedious. I liked the costumes, although Hermes is always perfectly dressed, all the other costumes were amusing or appropriate. Please don't misunderstand, I liked Hermes' clothes very much, they were just too perfect in the way everything matched and fit. Actually, I was fascinated by her look more than her acting, which was probably not the point. I wear a lot of black because its hard to go wrong in basic black, so maybe I'm jealous; hard to know. On the other hand, as likeable as she is, Hermes is less of a character and more of a plot motif, so she better be perfectly dressed and never a hair out of place.

So, yeah, I liked "Densha Otoko" and cheerfully recommend it as a brisk, cheerful film for anyone over the age of twelve with geek leanings, who can keep up with the subtitles. For everyone else, it is a highly enjoyable romantic and romanticized look at an unfamiliar culture. And remember, it's a true story, so look out: it could happen to you.

Scroll down for pictures. Click on the images for larger versions.

Notes:

[1] It pays to read the press materials: "In modern Japanese slang, otaku refers to an overly obsessed fan of any one particular theme, topic, or hobby. The term is used most commonly with anime or manga otaku, but by itself just means 'fanatic.' Furthermore, while in Japanese the term otaku possesses a fairly derogatory air about it, internationally, the term has evolved to mean, simply, an obsessed fan of Japanese manga or anime (or more broadly, Japanese popular culture). Thus, outside of Japan, serious devotees of anime and/or manga proudly refer to themselves as otaku. Train Man : Densha Otoko

And

"The opening of Train Man : Densha Otoko takes place in the central Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara.* Filled with urban noise and neon lights , this 'Electric Town' provides the setting for a true love story. Akihabara ( referred to by locals as akiba) is known as one of the largest shopping areas on Earth for electronic , computer, anime , and otaku goods . It’s known around the world as the mecca of otaku culture. Akiba otaku lead a unique lifestyle , based around technological interest s and love for anime and manga . It’s a lifestyle that’s made them outsiders in Japanese society. However, recently, with the rapid growth of the anime and manga market in Japan, otaku culture has gained a higher profile and generated greater interest in the Japanese media." Train-man InfoSheet, VIZ Media media kit.

[2]Also from the press kit: "A manga café (or manga kissa in Japanese) is a kind of café in Japan where customers can read manga . Customers p ay for the time they stay in the café. They may also be offered internet access , video games , television, magazines, and beverages as par t of the fee . They can order snacks for extra , and more luxurious and newer cafés may even offer massage chairs or spa rooms . The history of manga cafés is a long one . The firs t manga cafés opened in Na goy a in the late 1970's . These tended to be ordinary coffee shops offering a large collection of manga available for customers to read on the premises . Nowadays the cost for a manga café is a round $4-5 an hour. Some manga cafes even offer a ser vice where customers can stay the night for only about $13, which is nice for people who missed the last subway. In April 2006 , a man was arrested for living in a manga cafe for 34 days without paying." Train-man InfoSheet, VIZ Media media kit.

*I would get sensory overload and pass out in Akiba.

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